• MARGATE – For the fourth year in a row, the tax rate for real property in Margate will remain unchanged. The Board of Commissioners introduced its 2015 municipal budget Feb. 19 with no increase in taxes.

    The $31.5 million budget calls for a tax rate of 60.1 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the same as last year. The average homeowner with a house assessed at $516,007 will pay $3,101.20 in municipal taxes this year.

    Salaries, pensions and debt service are up slightly, but overall spending is down $124,843, according to Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin.

  • Lt. Frank CulmoneLONGPORT – At its Feb. 25 regular meeting, the Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to support Mayor Nicholas Russo’s recommendation of Lt. Frank Culmone as the next chief of police.

    Culmone will replace Police Chief Vincent Pacentrilli, who will retire April 1 after 29 years on the police force.

    Russo said Culmone has the two most important traits for a police officer – morals and ethics.

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday, Feb. 24 cancelled its bid solicitation to build sand dunes on the beaches of Margate and Longport.

    “Today, we notified the bidders that we are cancelling the solicitation,” said Steve Rochette, public affairs officer of the Army Corps Philadelphia District.

    The Army Corps had received two extensions to finalize the contract from two bidders vying for the job. The latest deadline to award the contract was Wednesday, Feb. 25.

  • MARGATE – A building boom in Margate should all but eliminate an increase in taxes this year, Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin reported at the Board of Commissioners work session on Feb. 5.

    It’s still under review, but a draft budget is complete and “I anticipate getting very close to a zero increase,” McLaughlin said.

    In her unaudited finance update, McLaughlin noted that the city increased ratables by more than $14 million, which brings the net taxable value of real estate in the city to $3,560,607,377.

  • VENTNOR – Ventnor Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President Joe Iannuzzelli, backed by a dozen firefighters, attended the Board of Commissioners work session Wednesday, Feb. 11 at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex to ask whether a rumor he heard that the Ventnor and Atlantic City fire departments would merge is true.

    Mayor Michael Bagnell responded to his questions by saying that he is “just doing research” into the feasibility of merging the two departments.

  • Donna M. Peterson of Ventnor is the city’s new emergency management coordinator.VENTNOR – Since she was appointed Dec. 1 to lead the Office of Emergency Management, Donna M. Peterson has checked several items off her to-do list.She prioritized emergency responders as foremost for adequately protecting the city during the next big emergency event, improved technology and communication for first responding agencies and is working to finalize FEMA reimbursements from the last eight declared storms.

    “We’ve been very busy in a lot of different areas. I am trying to catch up on things, not just for myself, but for Ventnor City,” she said during an interview Friday, Feb. 6 at her office in City Hall.

  • MARGATE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has obtained a second extension of the deadline to award a contract to build sand dunes in Margate and Longport.

    According to Edward C. Voight, chief of Public and Legislative Affairs for the Philadelphia office of the Army Corps of Engineers, the bidders have agreed to extend their bid offerings for one month. The new deadline is Feb. 25.

    Additionally, The Downbeach Current has learned that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has not filed eminent domain proceedings in state court to obtain the easements needed to build sand dunes in Margate.

Margate voters to decide whether to fight dunes in November

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MARGATE – When local voters go to the polls for the Nov. 4 general election, they’ll get one more chance to decide if a legal battle to stop the dunes project is in Margate’s future.

Following a 90-minute special meeting that brought out supporters and detractors of the fight to stop the pending dunes project, the Board of Commissioners passed two resolutions. One would put a question on the November ballot asking voters to spend $200,000 plus technical costs to sue the state and federal government to stop the project. The other would allow the city to hire an attorney to file an immediate injunction to stop the project.

The deadline to submit a non-binding referendum question to the Atlantic County clerk for the November ballot is Friday, Aug. 15.

Mayor Michael Becker and Commissioner Maury Blumberg were at the dais, while Commissioner Brenda Taube attended the meeting via conference call.

Becker opened the meeting by reading Taube’s prepared statement in which she supported a referendum for Margate voters to decide if they want to spend up to a half-million dollars for a legal suit that might not be successful.

Taube said she believes a fight would exceed the amount suggested by attorneys who rendered opinions about the city’s chances of succeeding in court.

“I recognize that 64 percent of voters voted no to moving forward with the Shore Protection Plan, but they did not vote yes to moving forward with a lawsuit against the governor and state,” Taube said.

Becker said he would support getting the injunction, but wanted to hear from voters about what could be a costly legal battle.

“I believe Margate’s beaches are beautiful as they are. I am not in favor of the dunes project and I will continue to fight as I have for the last year. I am also in favor of getting an immediate injunction,” Becker said.

Becker said the non-binding referendum held in November 2013 asked residents to approve a cooperative agreement to allow the dunes to be built, but it did not include a mandate from taxpayers to fund a costly legal suit to stop the project.

“We must ask the citizens of Margate for their input,” Becker.

Blumberg said he is “passionately” against the Army Corps’ plan to build dunes on the beach.

“I’m looking at this as not a fight, but as a challenge, a challenge to the governor and DEP that we want to compromise,” Blumberg said. “For me it’s about challenging that we live in a democracy and the state can’t just come in here and take our beaches and condemn our property.”

A referendum is not needed, Blumberg said, but the commission should uphold the voters’ overwhelming approval of the November 2013 referendum.

Blumberg said he prefers that the city, state and federal government have “good faith negotiations” to come up with a plan that would not only protect beach-block homes, but all the homes in Margate.

“Ninety-eight percent of the flooding we had from Hurricane Sandy came from the bay,” Blumberg said.

The dunes would create other problems and lead beach-block property owners to appeal their assessments, which would increase taxes for other homeowners, Blumberg said. In addition, the dunes would require expensive maintenance every three years, outfall pipes will be an eyesore on the beach, and ponding behind the dunes would attract garbage and mosquitoes.

“We have a strong bulkhead system that works better than the dunes. The dunes will wash away in 20 to 45 minutes,” Blumberg said.

Resident John Sparta said he did not oppose having a referendum, but voters should be fully informed when they vote.

“It is incumbent upon the city to ensure the people are aware of the facts and the consequences. In the last referendum, people were ignorant. They voted against it because they didn’t understand or get all the facts,” Sparta said.

Resident Lloyd Levinson, who lives two houses from the beach and had “not a drop of salt water” that came into his home during Sandy, said there is no need for a referendum and the amount of money a fight will cost is “negligible” compared to the loss to the ratable base.

“The voters overwhelmingly voted not to have dunes. You can’t go back to the electorate every time there is a hot-button issue,” Levinson said. “We all knew it was going to potentially have to challenge the governor’s decision to have dunes up and down the coast. As the kids say, suck it up and vote to proceed.”

“People will lose confidence in us as a commission if we cannot come to an agreement to affect a challenge,” Blumberg said. “Sometimes you have to fight, not because you want to win, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

One resident chastised the commission for being indecisive in its dealings over the dunes project.

“Holding a referendum will set a precedent for everything else the city wants to do. The city spends a lot of money on things people don’t want and they never get a vote on it,” she said.

Daniel Gottlieb, who heads the Margate Citizens Questioning the Dunes Project committee that spearheaded the 2012 referendum, said the commission should not file an injunction until it obtains input from a coastal engineer.

“We need a coastal engineer to help us make this argument to the state, but we are not the experts. Why don’t we talk to a coastal engineer and find out what chances we have. Lawyers are saying if we go on legal issues, we don’t have a good chance,” Gottlieb said.

Some residents questioned when the project would start and said a November referendum would be too late to have an impact.

The project on Absecon Island was slated to begin in fall and end in spring 2015 so as not to negatively affect the summer season.

NJDEP spokesman Bob Considine said the Army Corps is handling the bidding for the Atlantic City to Longport dunes and replenishment project.

“Each project is at a different stage, so we don’t know when it will start. All we know is the project would start after this summer and go until 2016,” Considine said.

Regarding Margate, NJDEP spokesperson Larry Ragonese said, “The Army Corps is in final stages of engineering and design. They are expected to go out to bid on this project this summer.”

The resolution to file an injunction passed unanimously. The resolution to hold the referendum passed 2-1 with Blumberg voting no.

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